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Full text of "My Country And My People"

66       MY COUNTRY AND MY PEOPLE

can see street urchins with dirty faces wearing embroidered
and multi-coloured robes, accompanied, in modern China, by
brass bands playing "Onward, Christian Soldiers," which
facts are often adduced by Europeans as proofs of the Chinese
lack of humour. A Chinese funeral procession, however, is a
perfect symbol of Chinese humour, for Europeans alone take
a funeral procession seriously and try to make it solemn. A
solemn funeral is inconceivable to the Chinese mind. Where
the Europeans err is that, with their preconceived notions, they
think a priori that a funeral should be a solemn affair. A funeral,
like a wedding, should be noisy and should be expensive, but
there is no reason why it should be solemn. Solemnity is
already provided for in the grandiloquent gowns, and the
rest is form, and form is farce. To this day, I cannot distin-
guish between a funeral and a wedding procession until I see
a coffin or a wedding-chair.

Chinese humour, then, as symbolized by the highly farcical
funeral procession, consists in compliance with outward form
as such and the total disregard of the substance in actuality.
One who appreciates the humour of a Chinese funeral should
be able to read and interpret Chinese political programmes
properly also. Political programmes and official statements
are issued as matters of form, being drafted by clerks who
specialize in a kind of specious, bombastic phraseology, just
as there are special shops keeping funeral procession gowns
and paraphernalia for hire, and no intelligent Chinese ever
takes them seriously. If foreign newspaper correspondents
would bear this symbol of the funeral gown in mind, they
would be less likely to be misled by them and then later
give up the Chinese as a unique people that they fail to under-
stand.

This farcical view of life and this formula regarding form
and substance can be illustrated in a myriad different ways.
Some years ago, a government order, originating in a request
from the Central Kuomintang, prohibited the Chinese govern-
ment ministries from keeping Shanghai offices in the foreign
concessions. The actual carrying out of this order would
mean a great inconvenience to the ministers who have their
homes in Shanghai, and throw a number of people out of